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Post Time: Big Derby prep at Tampa

The Derby trail winds down south to the gulf coast and Tampa Bay Downs this weekend for the $250,000 Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. The 1 1/16-mile affair will be contested by eight colts and two geldings seeking valuable Derby points.

The last two runners up have gone on to bigger things later in the year. The 2017 Davis runner-up Tapwrit, ended up going on to become the Belmont Stakes winner. Last year’s second-place finisher Catholic Boy went on to win the Travers at Saratoga.

Last year’s winner, an Ontario-bred Flameaway, ended up being the pace setter in the Kentucky Derby.

The race will be broadcast during a two-hour FOX Sports Saturday At The Races program, produced by the New York Racing Association that will air from 4 - 6:00 p.m. on FS2, featuring live coverage of the 35th renewal of the $150,000 Jimmy Winkfield from Aqueduct, the $100,000 King Cotton from Oaklawn and extensive coverage of the Sam F. Davis card from Tampa.

The big name in the Sam F. Davis is Knicks Go, a colt that already has garnered 18 Derby qualifying points. The top four finishers on Saturday will accumulate 10-4-2-1 points towards a gate on the First Saturday in May.

Here’s a look at the entries for the Davis (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):

Race 11 – Tampa Bay Downs, Post Time: 5:25 p.m. ET

1 – Counter Offer (Wilkes, Gallardo, 12-1). A single maiden win in six career races doesn’t exactly exude confidence in the son of Tapizar. He had a decent showing in his last outing finishing second to a Pletcher hopeful who is in the No. 8 hole. His pedigree screams miler, so it will be pass the cannoli on this one.

2 – Going for Gold (Hess, Jr. Bracho, 20-1).  Laurel shipper has yet to break his maiden, finishing second behind the winner if both of his career races. Hess puts the blinkers on the son of Atreides in hopes of pushing over the top in the Davis. Has some pedigree to go long and picks up local jock to ride on a quirky track. Will third time be a charm?

3 – Knicks Go (Colebrook, Jiminez, 5-2).  Heavy favorite after two strong races in late 2018 in Kentucky, including a runner-up finish to the top colt in the division, Game Winner, in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvy. Draw a line through his 2018 finale at Churchill on a sloppy track where he didn’t fire. The one to beat.

4 – Cave Run (Harty, Castanon, 6-1). Finished a well beaten third in the local prep for the Davis as the favorite at Tampa. Godolphin hopeful will need a big improvement to step into the Derby spotlight from that effort. Has solid pedigree and tries two turns for the first time on his home track. Interesting.

5 – Moonster (Romans, Comacho,  30-1). Calumet runner has only one win in six attempts and that was a maiden breaker in September for Romans. Son of Malibu Moon doesn’t have the speed to contend with the top horses in the race.

6 – Kentucky Wildcat (Albertrani, Bravo, 9-2).  Big step up in class to graded company for the maiden Godolphin charge. Has some solid speed figures to go along with a solid pedigree. Veteran connections have me leaning this way for the colt venturing out of New York state for the first time this year. Contender.

7 – Five Star General (Delacour, Ortiz, 4-1). For the second straight year Delacour drew lucky No. 7 for this race. This son of Distorted Humor comes in off of a non-graded stakes victory at the Big A and talented jockey Jose Ortiz making the trip across the state to ride the General. Has two straight wins, both on off tracks coming into the race. Dangerous.

8 – So Alive (Pletcher, Castellano, 5-1). Robert LaPenta put Catholic Boy in this race last year and he has top jockey Javy Castellano aboard the son of Super Saver. Pletcher trained his father to a 2010 Derby win and hopes his offspring gets off on the right foot in Tampa. He seems to fit with this crew and has a win over the track coming into the race.

9 – Well Defined (O’Connell, Morales, 8-1). After posting two big Gulfstream numbers, he cooled off big time with a 12th place finish in the Juvy with Hall of Famer Mike Smith aboard and a lackluster 2019 debut. Have to sit another one out before trusting him again.

10 – Still Dreaming (Motion, Vargas, Jr., 15-1). Lightly raced West Point colt drew the outside post and comes off a maiden breaker at Laurel. Ships in to run with connections that are hitting at a 29 percent clip over the last 60 days. Small sample size, but Vargas is 2-for-3 at Tampa and this $460K purchase could be live.

Post Time Outlook:  1 – Kentucky Wildcat; 2 – Five Star General; 3 – Knicks Go; 4 – So Alive 

Saratoga Racing Schedule Changes

The New York Racing Association confirmed the change in the Saratoga racing calendar as reported by the Daily Racing Form last week. Due to the construction of the new Islanders arena on the Belmont Park property, racing will move to Saratoga earlier in 2019.

The meet will start on Thursday July 11 and continue through its normal closing date of Labor Day (Sept. 2).  The 40-day racing schedule will remain with dark days on Monday and Tuesday throughout the meet, except for Labor Day.

The meet’s biggest races maintain their normal weekend spots of Aug. 3 for the Whitney and Aug. 24 for the Travers.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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